by Jen Graves
on Wed, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:04 AM
BRENT HOLLAND'S PAINTINGS AT FLYING APRON ON TUESDAY Can gross Boobstagram be painted into good Breastagram?
I won't recount again the full story of last November's Boobish Boob Art Disagreement in Seattle—read "216 Nipples Later" if you want it—but suffice it to say that it involved a print featuring many pairs of isolated breasts (with names attached) removed from a show after employees in the gallery building called harassment. Meanwhile, others called censorship.
The paintings went up at Flying Apron on October 15, and after an employee reported feeling uncomfortable about them, the paintings came down this afternoon.
The case is mildly interesting: Holland intended his paintings of isolated cleavage shots from Instagram as a critique of isolated cleavage shots on Instagram. What he relied on to transform them from gross to good was the act of painting. He worked hard on them. He applied studied technique to cheap objects. Classic art move, even if it didn't really work on whoever still felt like they were basically just cheap shots made by a dude up on the walls.
He was indignant. "In Fremont of all places people should be able to handle a little cleavage ESPECIALLY if the work is supporting breast cancer awareness." He told me he's an art teacher and has a young baby, these paintings hang over his baby's crib, and his wife and grandmother love them. The show was in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and ten percent of his sales would be donated to charity.
He continued: "In the 3 days they have been up I have already sold two of them. So beyond the total ridiculousness of the censorship, I feel there has been some breach of contract. The show was supposed to be up for 2 months, and I usually sell about 5-6 paintings every show I have. Ending this one early I'm out of that opportunity AND in turn I'll be able to donate less money to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance as planned."
He wanted to know what I thought. Did he have recourse? Was there anything an artist could do? Did he have to take them down? I told him that it seemed like he tried an artistic experiment and it didn't work the way he thought it would—at least one person wasn't buying the premise that fine art has a naturally refining effect on shitty imagery. I tend to agree with that.
But on the other hand, a note to anybody who's putting up art: Don't jerk artists around. Do whatever vetting you need to do before the art goes up. The retail manager at Flying Apron told me she had no idea that Holland made anything like the cleavage paintings, but the artist showed me an email from her from July 31, when he'd posted to his web site about this very project, including five nice big color JPEGs of pieces that ended up at Flying Apron, on July 3. Whatever happened, it wasn't due diligence.
I guess I just have two more thoughts. One, the pastries at Flying Apron are mindblowing and I would like artists to be able to eat these pastries in all good conscience. Two, it's childish to believe free speech means consequence-free speech. You make provocative images, you don't get to control what gets provoked.